(Excuse me. I’m just a little excited because it has been well over a month, maybe more like two months, since I finished a whole book.)
When I saw The Brainy Bunch: The Harding Family’s Method to College Ready by Age Twelve on the new books stand at the library, I knew it would be a quick read, and I thought I might pick up a few pointers or at least be inspired by it. It turns out I was right about being inspired, though perhaps not in the way one might expect after reading such a book. No, I am not rushing over to the local university to enroll Lulu, age eleven, for the fall semester, nor am I eagerly looking at the schedule for the local community college. The Hardings’ idea is that education should be compressed to the essentials, and that their children should begin high school level work as soon as they’re able. Thus, if the child if working on high school level material, it goes on their high school transcript, no matter their age. Each child is also encouraged to discover their educational/career path early, and with that goes early preparation for college entrance examinations. They discuss various “loopholes” or “back door methods” that have allowed their children, who are not geniuses or even necessarily super smart (by their own admission), to get into college before they’re even teenagers. One of these “back door methods” is that when they lived in California, their older girls were able to take the California High School Proficiency Examination to “test out” of high school. Alabama, the other state where they have spent most of their children’s schooling years, has no such option. In Alabama they have used the early transcript, dual enrollment, and transfer credit “loophole.” These methods have thus far produced an engineer, an architect, a doctor, an entrepreneur, a composer and musician, and the list goes on. (There are ten Harding children!) Regardless of whether or not one agrees with the method, one can hardly argue with the results. All of older children have a voice in the book, as well, and by their own accounts they have been happy with this method of education.
Most of what I got from this book is encouragement in parenting, homeschooling, and holding my children close. I’m not on board with sending my children into a university classroom at age twelve, and neither am I really on board with compressing education down to the essentials. I prefer a broader education than what I perceive the Hardings encourage from their book. It seems to me that there must’ve been a whole lot of running around to get their children to their classes, with mom and the other children staying nearby and walking around the college track or sitting outside the classroom. I don’t think this would work for me or my family, to be so bound by one child’s schedule. The Hardings’ motto is that they give the attention or time to the child who needs them most at the moment, which is obviously the one who is “college age.” However, I am encouraged by their story to consider alternatives to the traditional educational path. I guess you could say we already do that since my children have never been to traditional school. It is still easy to slip back into the traditional-school mindset, though, and this book is a good reminder that children are capable of more than we give them credit for. It also made me look at dual enrollment in a slightly new light. I was an AP English student in high school, and I admit to being something of an AP snob. After having taken many English classes at our local university, I know that I learned a lot more in AP English in high school than I ever did in college. I really thought I’d work toward my own children testing through AP to see how they fare. After reading this book, though, I see that dual enrollment is perhaps a much more practical (if not as prestigious 😉 ) way to go.
The Brainy Bunch provided me with lots of food for thought. Although I had a hard time at times following the narrative (it seems to skip around a lot and really could’ve used some editing to bring it into focus more), I’m glad I read it. (Gallery Books, 2014)